With the 1984 Data Protection Act and new laws that came into force last year legislation on how companies hold and use data are tougher than ever. Companies, including sole traders and small business, could be faced with unlimited fines if they hold information on customers and do not comply with the law. On top of that, individual employees can also be fined if they misuse data.

The 1984 Data Protection Act

Companies that hold personal data must register with the Data Protection Register. In addition they have a duty to ensure that some basic principals are observed.

Data must be:

  • fairly and lawfully processed
  • processed for limited purposes
  • adequate, relevant and not excessive
  • accurate
  • not kept longer than necessary
  • processed in accordance with the data subject’s rights
  • secure
  • not transferred to countries without adequate protection

Personal data covers both facts and opinions about individuals. It also includes information on your intentions towards the individual, although in some limited circumstances exemptions will apply. With processing, the definition is far wider than before. For example, it incorporates the concepts of ‘obtaining’, holding’ and ‘disclosing’.

New laws and marketing methods

Last year new data protection laws came in to force which means that companies using marketing methods such as faxing unsolicited material to multiple destinations or telemarketing could easily fall foul of the law and could face a fine of up to £5,000.

New laws make it illegal for businesses to send an unsolicited marketing fax to:

  • someone who has not consented to receive it, including sole traders and partnerships (except partnerships in Scotland)
  • limited companies who have registered not to receive them with Fax Preference Service (FPS)

In addition making marketing telephone calls is illegal if individuals have told you they do not want to receive such call or have registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).

How to avoid breaking the law

If you want to carry on sending marketing faxes and telemarketing you must:

  • Keep an up to date list of people who have asked you not to do this. Check potential customers against the Fax Preference Service list (FPS)
  • Purchase an FPS Individual lists costing ({@denom})500 (updated every 28 days). Or opt for the FPS annual service is ({@denom})3,750 which includes updates
  • Check people you want to telephone against the Telephone Preference opt-out list costing ({@denom})7,500 per year which includes updates or ({@denom})1,000 for a one off lists

Specialist firms will screen your list of potential customers, charges start at around ({@denom})20 for less than ({@denom})1,000. The Direct Marketing Association has a list of these companies.